Published: April 12, 2011
The Antiques Dealers Association of America (ADA) presented its annual Award of Merit to Morrison H. Heckscher at the Philadelphia Antiques Show on April 9. Heckscher, the Lawrence A. Fleischman chairman of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is the eleventh recipient of the prize, which honors distinguished contributions to the field of American art.
ADA dinner chairman Arthur Liverant and Lincoln Sander, the ADA’s executive director, organized the event, which drew 300 guests for dinner in a tented enclosure adjacent to the Navy Pier’s Cruise Terminal at Pier One, where the antiques show continued through April 12.
“Tonight the ADA is honoring a luminary in the American decorative arts,” began ADA president Judith Livingston Loto, welcoming guests to the evening of accolades.
ADA board member Elle Shushan and Carrie Rebora Barratt, associate director for collections and administration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, introduced the evening’s speakers.
“Morrie is a cherished leader and great mentor, an agent provocateur and gifted diplomat,” said Barratt, former curator of American paintings and sculpture at the Met. She revealed that Heckscher, who is rarely seen professionally without a bow tie and has been known to chop wood in a Brooks Brothers shirt, enjoys his morning coffee and pastry in the Met’s basement café, a reliable place to catch the otherwise busy administrator.
Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, the Met’s Anthony W. and Lulu C. Wang curator of American decorative arts, described bonding with Heckscher over their mutual “affection for an obscure part of the Maine coastline, Muscongus Bay,” a theme developed by keynote speaker Christopher Monkhouse, the chair and Eloise W. Martin curator of European decorative arts at the Art Institute of Chicago. Monkhouse has also preserved an early house in Maine.
“After 40 years, Morrie now has a water vehicle,” teased Frelinghuysen, describing the Louds Island retreat that Heckscher and his wife, physician Fenella Grieg, for years reached by rowboat or skiff. Modern plumbing was unknown on Louds before 2009.
The Vyne, the Heckschers’ Gothic Revival cottage in the Hudson River Valley, is similarly rustic, said Frelinghuysen, adding, “Morrie’s love of architecture has given him endless challenges and projects.”
After reading a congratulatory letter from Tony and Lulu Wang, Frelinghuysen concluded, “No one more deserves to receive this award than Morrie. He is a favorite of us all.”
Monkhouse stepped to the podium to recall first meeting Heckscher in 1966 on the platform at Euston Station in central London. The longtime friends were headed to Attingham Summer School, an intensive program devoted to the study of British historic houses.
Monkhouse shared what he calls “the which way” photograph, a contemplative portrait of Heckscher admiring an English stately house in the distance. Heckscher, who did his doctoral work on the English architect and furniture designer William Kent, “never left his great love of England behind,” said his friend, detailing Heckscher’s many contributions to the scholarly literature on both sides of the Atlantic and his passion for collecting. Heckscher’s greatest acquisition for the Met is the Frank Lloyd Wright living room from the Little House in Minnesota.
When it was Heckscher’s time to speak, he said simply, “It is wonderful to receive this honor in a city I have always loved and remember from the late 1940s, when it was really still a Victorian city.” In a nod to the trade, Heckscher recalled that the first antiques dealer he met was Philip Bradley of Downingtown, Penn., whose son, also Philip Bradley, exhibits at the Philadelphia Antiques Show. Other dealers who made an impression on the young scholar were Joe Kindig, Ben and Cora Ginsburg, the Sack brothers and Zeke Liverant.
“The business we are in combines the retail trade, the love of private collectors and the passion of curators and scholars. It is one of the most rewarding professions imaginable. The work I have done is because of my colleagues. I thank them and my wife, Fenella,” he concluded.
Heckscher designated The Woodlands, a Federal mansion and arboretum on the western banks of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, as the recipient of the charitable donation the ADA will make in his honor. He acknowledged the work of Philip Price, Jr, and his family in saving the Federal structure.
Seven of ten past award winners attended the event. Past recipients of the prize are Albert Sack, Elinor Gordon, Wendell Garrett, Betty Ring, R. Scudder Smith, Satenig St Marie, Dean F. Failey, Joe Kindig, Philip Zea and Richard and Jane Nylander.
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